New Trends Affecting How We Shop and Work

Change. We’ve all experienced a tremendous amount in the past year and a half thanks to the pandemic. New trends in how we shop and work have taken hold and may become the “new normal”, especially since the pandemic is still not over. The Delta variant to #COVID-19 as well as other variants, continue to spread across the globe altering how we live and work.

What have we learned from 2020?

photo of exercise balls and dumb bells

One of the new trends people learned is how to search and shop online. That trend is now a permanent way of buying goods and services. People who never explored online shopping, except for perhaps Amazon, learned to shop online for just about anything from groceries, to home gym equipment, and easy, relaxed clothing. While many people are eager to get back to shopping in person, they have higher expectations of the retailers. We do still want to touch and feel the products we buy. That’s an advantage a physical location provides, However, the experience has to be a good one or we’ll go elsewhere. Consumers now expect the same products to be available both online and in physical stores. According to research by the Marketing Insider Group, “options and immediate availability will be key.” So will proper safety procedures. We now expect to see hand sanitizer stations around the stores and will look for canisters of sanitizer wipes to clean the carts. Until pandemic threats are reduced dramatically, consumers will be wary and watching to see how well in-store personnel follow safety procedures.

Some Businesses Thrived

Another new trend we found was that businesses that pivoted and were creative in delivering products and services during periods of shutdown actually thrived. Consumers still needed to shop for groceries and craved getting food prepared by their favorite restaurants. The difference was they were ordering online or via phone and picking it up to go. A new Acronym developed called BOPUS (Buy Online, Pick Up In Store). A local mead producer in our area created “date night experiences”. They teamed up with other local businesses to provide an experience that included appetizers, locally made bread, wine or mead, and flowers. Another local restaurant chef chose 2020 to launch one of her dreams. She now offers chef-prepared meals that she ships nationwide. Just pop it in the oven to warm it up, and presto, you have a 5-star meal prepared by a well-known chef.

Consumer Loyalty is gone.

A change in consumer loyalty is a third trend we’ve seen. Whereas pre-pandemic consumers tended to shop their favorite brands, during the pandemic, they started exploring other options. Across all generations, people explored and shopped at least five new brands online. According to Raydiant’s State of Consumer Behavior 2021, 25% of consumers reported they switched brands more frequently during the pandemic than before. Thanks to increased conveniences like faster delivery and more choice, consumers found better options when searching online. That behavior will probably be permanent.

Home is Where Everything Happens

Another new trend the Marketing Insider Group found is that the “home is now the hub of where all things happen”. We purchased gym equipment to stay active and physically fit at home. We bought comfortable, relaxed athletic clothing for work and play. Those who began working from home, and still do, equipped their home offices the necessary technology. Zoom meetings became a daily staple for all of us. That meant we needed webcams and headsets attached to our computers. I recall at one point early in 2020 when it was impossible to find webcams. Now, while we may be going out a bit more, and work may be more of a hybrid situation, more of us still plan to work from home. 

The new trend towards more remote work will continue as the pandemic eases and the world tries to find a new normal. This trend may be balanced with hybrid work situations where staff come into the office one or two days a week and work from home the rest of the time. Others will simply work from home on a permanent basis depending on their work situation. This certainly appeals to many younger workers who value work flexibility based on project deadlines rather than an 8 to 5 work routine. 

Worker Shortage is an Ongong Challenge

The big challenge that may carry over into 2022 is finding enough workers. In 2020, many older workers chose retirement, and other employment-age people either prefer only to work remotely or have moved away. A few restaurants in our area have to close one or two days during the week or several hours each day because they can’t cover the shifts. Others are offering steep signing bonuses and creative incentives to attract workers. The workforce shortage is happening across all industries and in all areas.

Employers will have to get creative to re-design how work is done and new ways to still serve customers well with fewer employees. A new trend caused by this worker shortage is the hiring of more gig and contract workers to fill the void. Other businesses are incorporating more flexibility in work hours, projects and cross-training. These may present challenges for HR departments as they evaluate performance management processes and benefit options (see 9Future of Work Trends Post-COVID-19). It may no longer be effective to have a one size fits all performance review system. 

Employees Care About Branding and Reputation

A June 25, 2021 blog by Glassdoor states that branding and reputation are important for employees and job seekers. The blog states that 86% said they research company reviews and ratings when deciding where to apply for a job.

The article also states a new trend indicating that three factors are most important for employee satisfaction: a compelling company mission, promoting transparent and empathic leaders, and building clear career opportunities.

According to a Gartner report, other key areas employees and job seekers check include the following:

1) how well employers treated their employees both during and post-pandemic, 2) how openly and frequently management communicated with employees, and
3) whether or not executives shared in the financial impacts of the pandemic versus the broader employee base.

Key Takeaways

Clearly, the world of work has changed and employers need to adjust. Key takeaways from these new trends are:

  • Consumers have higher expectations and want the same products available online as well as in-store
  • Customer service is important and consumers will stop buying based on one bad experience
  • An online presence is more important now than ever before
  • Flexible work environments that include hybrid work are important for workers as well as employer transparency and reputations
  • Employers need to reinvent workflows and introduce cross training
  • HR departments need to reevaluate payroll, benefits, and performance management systems

Email Marketing Tips to Manage Your Emails

To professional email marketing people the tips I’m about to share will seem, well, “duh, who doesn’t know that?”

Email marketing tipsI find many clients who aren’t very techy tend to make some simple mistakes when creating and managing their email marketing systems. If you send a lot of emails, managing your sent emails, drafts and templates can be a challenge depending on the email marketing system you use.

One client has several different email templates used by both the owner and other volunteers. While I’ve trained the owner on the best practices when sending out emails and organizing his templates, I see the same mistakes cropping up when I go in to create his monthly newsletter.

Tip 1: Make a template and copy it. Don’t send it.

Yes, simple concept, but easy to forget. Create a template to use for all your emails related to that particular subject. Then save it as a template. If you send it, you won’t have a template to use the next time. Copying and updating a sent email will work the first time around, but after several iterations, links get corrupted, as well as formatting.

So, create your templates first and save them with names that include the message: COPY FIRST. DON’T SEND. This will serve as a reminder to yourself … provided you notice the template name and the message it implies.

Tip 2: Create a numbering system to easily track your templates

One particular client has several email templates for different purposes. You may as well. In Constant Contact, it’s difficult to find the templates if you have a lot and you have sent many emails to your clients. Constant Contact’s search function is not very useful since you can only search alphabetically forwards and backwards or by type. It’s not possible to search by date sent, and when multiple people use the account, getting everyone to use the same naming structure is challenging. Consequently, searching for a particular sent email can be time consuming.

At least for your templates you can set up a system that’s organized using numbers for each one such as 01-name of template, 02-name of template. You can also use A-name of template, B-name of template, etc. Just don’t accidentally include spaces before the numbers and letters or before or after the dashes or in the template names on some but not all, since email systems, Constant Contact in particular, count those as part of the name. That will throw your organization out of whack.

Examples: 01-name of template vs. 01- nameoftemplate or 01 – name of template.

Consistency is the key when naming your templates in order to ensure they get organized properly. It is also key when creating your emails and sending them out. Unfortunately, it’s just too easy to copy that last email you sent out and update it instead of using a template.

But what if the last email had some information in it you want to share again which is not in the original template?

Select the html code for that article or snippet and copy and paste it into your template.

Yep. If you created an article in one of your recent emails that you want to keep using – such as an event promotion – and it’s not in the original email template, copy the html code and paste it into the template. Then save the template. If you don’t know how to do that, contact me, and I’ll show you.

Vocational Training Teaches Entrepreneurship

If Congressional Bill H.R. 610 is about dismantling the public school system, vocational training is an answer to ensure all youth get an equal education. It may not be focused on reading, writing and ‘rithmatic exclusively, but this movement is teaching youths real world skills to build a future for themselves.

Across the U.S., a growing movement is educating kids in the principles of entrepreneurship – what it takes to create, start, and grow a business. The world of work has changed … everyone needs to have an entrepreneurial mentality regardless of whether they create and lead their own company or they work for someone else. Vocational training fills this need. According to Victor Hwang, VP of entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, “The school system has long taught for industrial jobs: how to find a job, how to fill a job. But the jobs of the new economy are ones where you have to be entrepreneurial.”

This article by Tom Foster, Editor-at-large,, “Inside the Schools That Want to Create the Next Mark Zuckerberg–Starting at Age 5“, gives me hope for future generations. Across the U.S. kids are learning how to make and sell their own products. From handmade dog treats to gluten free baked goods and even security software, kids are learning skills to stimulate innovative thinking and hopefully ensure the next Mark Zuckerberg.

vocational training teaches real world skillsSchools over the years dismantled their vocational training programs. When I went to high school, we had classes like Home Economics and Shop where we learned how to cook and sew or how to repair cars and build things. Those programs disappeared as schools tightened budgets to focus on reading, writing, science, and math. While important educational programs, these exclusively left-brain-focused classes didn’t work for students who predominantly learned by physically “doing” something. They needed to make something to learn the concepts of math or science. Classes in shop and home economics did that.

Vocational training programs are making a come back

Now we’re seeing a resurgence of these vocational training programs, not in schools, but funded by the private sector and non-profit organizations. The traditional education program in the US doesn’t fit everyone. Some students just don’t want to get a business degree. Some know they want to work with their hands. And there is nothing wrong with that. Asian cultures have educated their youth this way from birth. Young children are tested at an early age to determine which path they should take. Then their entire education is focused on that path.

On the other hand, we’ve tried to fit all students into the same box in the effort to provide equal educational opportunities to all. And it isn’t working. Our educational system has not evolved fast enough to meet the demands of the new types of work that technological innovation is creating. Witness the outcry of companies like Google, Intel, and Qualcomm who say they can’t hire qualified people educated in the US. They need to import talent from other countries.

Compared to in-classroom courses, “vocational education aims to prepare students for their futures by focusing on the industries that interest them,” according to the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. Institute blog. The article continues to say, “Vocational education is more like college in the sense that students are expected to be autonomous. This helps to prepare students for the future by encouraging them to manage their own time and take care of themselves. Those who graduate from vocational school may be more prepared to assimilate into the “real world” than those coming out of high school.”

Vocational training, like exposure to arts and science through field study trips, helps to bring classroom learning into the real world. Many of us, whether young or old, learn best by doing.

Vocational training programs teach self awareness, responsibility, time management, as well as specific skills like wood working or animal husbandry or cooking or car maintenance. Math, reading and writing are wrapped up in the learning process as students apply their physical as well as mental faculties to the learning.

They prepare students for the new world of work.

Thinking differently produces new possibilities

Looking for inspiration recently, I turned to one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility. Opening it up I came to a story about thinking differently. It was written by a health system’s Vice President who attended a presentation one of the authors, Boston Philharmonic Symphony Conductor Benjamin Zander, made to his company.

Art of PossibilityThe audience was told to reflect on someone no longer in their lives while Zander played Chopin. The Vice President thought about his father’s inability to tell him he loved him all the time he was growing up. This caused him to distance himself from his father as an adult. But during reflection he remembered a special moment when his father showed him his love, even though he couldn’t say it. Suddenly, his world changed.

The final paragraph in the letter he wrote points to the importance of thinking differently:
We keep looking so hard in life for the ‘specific message’, and yet we are blinded to the fact that the message is all around us and within us all the time. We just have to stop demanding that it be on OUR terms or conditions, and instead open ourselves to the possibility that what we seek may be in front of us all the time.

Be open to new possibilities

This made me recall a time early in my banking career when I put in a bid to my boss and his boss to create a brand new department with me as department manager. I had seen the need for a department that provided “creative services” to the executives since I was being asked to do those things already. This involved writing out flip chart presentations (yes, this was before PCs and PowerPoint), editing speeches, creating posters for executive presentations, and planning and producing marketing and operations conferences.

A few days earlier I had called my mother for advice on how to structure my proposal and presentation. She was my business adviser and mentor early in my career having had lots of experience working her way up the corporate ladder. At the time, she and several other high level executive women had formed their own consulting firm to help women gain the management skills to excel in a corporate environment run predominantly by men. Much of what they were teaching these women had to do with thinking differently about themselves, their work, and their career goals.

So armed with her advice, I wrote up my presentation and made the pitch as she had suggested. I remember being disappointed after my presentation because I didn’t get exactly what I proposed. I said as much to my boss. His response was, “Jeri, why are you so disappointed? You won! It may not be exactly how you proposed it, but you got the department and the new responsibility. Congratulations!”

Thinking differently creates new possibilitiesSimilar to the epiphany the VP had in the book, I too, gained a new perspective. I realized I needed to change my thinking. I did get the new opportunity and the promotion even though it didn’t look exactly as I had proposed and I didn’t get the title I wanted. But I was given a budget to manage and permission to hire two people. It was my first job directly managing my own staff, instead of the shared management responsibility of the department secretary whom I supervised with several other colleagues. The department head had his own private secretary. And now I was the only other person in the department with my own staff. Boy did that irk some of my co-workers!

The message I finally internalized was to recognize the win, and start thinking differently.  New possibilities emerge as a result.

You might be surprised at what you discover!

Cultural Awareness Often Overlooked

Cultural awareness is often overlookedCultural awareness is often overlooked despite the drive toward building a multi-racial workforce. The focus on culture often does not address ethnicity. More and more both organizational culture and ethnic culture are intertwined as companies hire more multicultural staff to better serve their communities. What happens too frequently is that little thought is given to how well employees of different ethnic backgrounds will assimilate into the largely Anglo, male dominated US organizational culture, or how well the existing predominantly Anglo staff will accept and/or work with these multicultural team members. How many companies provide cross-cultural training for their staffs rather than simply expecting the individuals to sink or swim on their own?

In the planning community, there’s a great deal of discussion about culture – but it refers to the organizational climate, the way employees are expected to behave in pursuing the organizational objectives.

Perhaps the Anglo/American approach to pursuing these objectives doesn’t mesh with the ethnic culture of some of the staff. It may be a subtle refusal to act a certain way, to ask questions in a meeting, or to share opinions. Performance may lag because the individual doesn’t have enough information to do the work or thinks there’s a better way, but his or her culture dictates that it isn’t appropriate to question a superior. Rather than assume the individual is disinterested or incapable of performing the tasks assigned to them, the manager should take time to meet one-on-one and ask questions. This will help get to the root of the issue at hand.

Some people are able to overcome their personal cultural attitudes and adapt to the culture of the predominant group. Over time, their very ethnicity becomes less an issue as they develop a persona that transcends all ethnic groups. They become role models for the rest of us. Examples include:

Oprah Winfrey, while a role model for African Americans is also a role model for all women.
U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, the first Mexican-American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is a role model for Hispanic women proving they, too, can achieve greatness.
Cheech Marin and Sara Ramirez, while representing the Latino community, also break the boundaries of their ethnicity on screen and in television.
Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera have successfully broken across cultural boundaries.

And leadership in US government is becoming increasingly multicultural. Condoleezza Rice, as Secretary of State to the George W. Bush presidency, was the highest ranking African American woman in US government. And most recently, we have had an African American president and first lady in the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama, in particular, is a role model for not only African American women but for young women in general.

More and more television programs feature multi-racial families, as well as multi-racial casts. This has helped to bring cultural awareness into American households. From Latinos to African Americans to Asians, we are seeing them interact with one another both on the job and off. Over time this begins to color viewer attitudes towards ethnic differences, both in positive and  negative ways.

Does anyone remember the 1967 movie “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton? Remember how controversial that movie was showing an interracial couple (Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton)? Now we don’t even blink at the concept. We see Asian/Anglo couples (Hawaii 50) Latino/African American relationships (Rosewood), and other interracial combinations on television and it just seems normal. Even television ads reflect this cultural awareness, not only in the actors but also in the language and dress used.

Despite these examples, some still find it difficult to adjust. Instead of building bridges across ethnic lines, they alienate not only the Anglo community but also their own culture. They flaunt their Latino or  Black or Middle Eastern culture, with an attitude and language that are off-putting, using their ethnicity as an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness, and inappropriate social graces. What’s worse, they aren’t coached about how their behavior affects their co-workers. It is detrimental to not only themselves and their career mobility, but to the cultural group they represent. Their behavior reflects poorly on their ability to become part of the team in which they work because they alienate their team members.

A lack of cultural awareness or consideration on the part of leadership, and inertia to address a real internal as well as external employee problem, can destroy the very goal the company is trying to accomplish. As we frequently hear, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and in this case it’s ethnic culture affecting employee attitudes and behavior.

Here is an 8-step process for developing a rich, multicultural workforce that works together as a team instead of in factions working against one another:

Step 1   Smart Start Planning. First, determine the future vision of what the workforce should be. This starts at the executive leadership level and includes key stakeholders throughout the organization who can influence the success or failure of the “people management plan”. This will result in an inspirational statement describing where the organization wishes to be positioned to maximize its people as a competitive advantage. This also includes a description of the respective roles of senior management, line management, employees, and the Human Resources function in contributing to organizational success.

Step 2  Key Success Measures. Identify the high-level quantifiable outcome measures (key people success measures) that will be used to measure employee success in adding value to customers, shareholders, and the community. Include measures that take into account multicultural issues that must be addressed throughout the organization.

Step 3  Best Practices Assessment.  Evaluate the organization against the “Six People Edge Best Practices”, developed by the Haines Centre for Strategic Planning. Based on extensive research and consulting experience, these Six Best Practice areas are:

  • Acquiring the desired workforce
  •  Engaging the workforce
  • Organizing high performance teams
  • Creating a learning organization
  • Facilitating cultural change
  • Collaborating with stakeholders

Step 4  Strategy Development. Develop core “people management strategies” that are aligned to the direct business needs of the organization’s delivery system, and attuned to developing people’s hearts and minds in support of serving the customer. Both the alignment and attunement strategies should relate closely and support the core strategies of the organization’s overall Strategic Plan. They should also articulate the company’s strategies for developing their multicultural talent, helping them adapt to the organization’s corporate culture, and celebrating its multicultural environment.

Step 5  3-Year Planning. This involves development of actions that outline the key activities for the next three years in support of the core strategies. A three-year lay-out of all needed actions and programs is conducted. Then, these activities are focused down to the top three to four priority “must do” actions for the next year. This leads to the development of a one-year operational plan and budget for each major department. Again, these actions should articulate how each department is addressing multicultural aspects to build and support high performing teams.

Step 6  Plan to Implement. A one-year Implementation Plan is developed here, with the steps, processes, and structures required for successful implementation. This includes how the plan will be communicated and how the change process will be managed and coordinated. The key element is regular follow-up by the Executive/Employee/Leadership Development Boards which are established to ensure a successful implementation throughout the organization. Implementation is everyone’s job, not just the HR department.

Step 7  Implementation. This is the point of actual implementation, change management, completion of tasks and priorities, and periods of adjusting actions as needed during the year. It also involves managing the change process, measuring progress against the key people success measures, and celebrating achievements along the way.

Step 8  Annual Review and Update. The plan must be formally reviewed and updated on an annual basis. The key is to review the entire plan and update the annual priorities, taking into account ongoing changes in the business direction, the environment, and stakeholder expectations. Achievements are recognized and celebrated. Strategies are reviewed, and the three-year plan is updated.

They key to developing high performance teams is to include them in the planning and implementation process. Develop a strength in educating the entire workforce about multicultural differences and similarities. Celebrate the uniqueness of the cultures within the organization’s workforce and highlight them regularly. Make a conscious effort to put multicultural teams together to address organization-wide issues. Team them with a coach experienced in handling multicultural teams so issues can be addressed as they arise. This empowers the employees to see how they contribute to the success of the organization while learning about the similarities and differences of their ethnic counterparts.

Too often organizations forget about including specific ways to address, educate and include the multicultural backgrounds of their workforce, focusing instead on organizational design and workflow. Yet these multicultural backgrounds and experiences influence individual behavior within the organization and the way work gets done. Not recognizing and planning for this can result in misunderstandings, miscommunications, and divisive work environments instead of empowered, goal-oriented teamwork.

Shaping the overall organizational culture to sustain a competitive advantage is a key Best Practice leverage point, and is the job of leadership throughout the organization.

Contact us if you have questions about this. We look forward to your comments.

Top Chef Yields Innovative Ideas

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Innovative ideas come from unrelated areas. Chefs stretch their creative thinking to invent unusual and flavorful dishes. Consumer Trend Canvas stimulates innovative solutions.

Top Chef yields innovative ideas

As I watched a recent TV episode of Top Chef, I thought about how two chefs in particular stretched themselves pairing unusual ingredients from Asian and European cooking to make innovative and flavorful seafood dishes of lobster, clams, and oysters. It made me wonder how we might apply similar concepts to generate innovative ideas with our work with clients.

During this particular competition, the four remaining chefs had to be innovative in their use of ingredients, spices, textures, and flavors when preparing a main dish for four executive chef judges. Of the four contestants, one was eliminated, and the other three went into the final round in Mexico.

Each time the chefs competed, they were given one or more ingredients that must be the featured item in the dishes they prepare. They usually had less than an hour to decide what ingredients and spices to add, how to cook the main protein, and what sauce if any to include. This time also included plating the entrée and then presenting it to the judges.

This particular episode made me think…what can we do to help our clients think more creatively and stretch themselves in their problem-solving? Do the same planning models and tools work for this purpose or can those be adapted to help our clients dig deeper into the issues that are the heart of their challenges? Is there a tool to help them develop innovative ideas to solve critical issues?

Using Trend Canvas to Generate Innovative Ideas

We had the opportunity to test this in a planning project with a large spiritual organization. On the first day of planning, we introduced the Consumer Trend Canvas from Breaking the group into teams of four or five, we had each team use the Consumer Trend Canvas to analyze a critical issue and come up with some innovative solutions.

The beauty of the Consumer Trend Canvas is that it forces you to look outside the organization at what’s driving the changes that affect that particular issue. It also has you look at the basic consumer needs tied to that issue, and the emerging consumer expectations. After reviewing those three areas, you begin to think more creatively about how to address those changes as they apply to the issue you’re tackling. This creates interesting possibilities – innovative ideas – that might not have bubbled to the surface without using the Consumer Trend Canvas.

For this organization, one of the issues was member retention. They were no longer relevant, and consequently, they weren’t attracting younger members or retaining current, aging members. The average age of members was over 70! Without attracting new, younger members, the organization would eventually cease to exist.

We had each team chart their issue, three key challenges, and one to three innovative solutions on a flip chart. Then they shared their solutions with the entire group. This gave the group a list of innovative ideas to pursue further in order to resolve their top critical issues.

We had them prioritize the ideas down to one key idea for each issue. Then we included those ideas as action items under the strategies they came up with on the second day of the planning retreat. This resulted in a manageable list of action steps to pursue to move the organization forward towards its desired outcomes.

Doing this early in the planning session helped them to start thinking creatively as they continued through the rest of the weekend’s planning exercises. It forced them to look outside the organization at global trends that were impacting them now or could do so in the future.

The group successfully completed all the elements of a strategic plan during the two-day retreat. They have written the plan and are now in the process of executing it. In May, we’ll review their progress to see what they have accomplished in their first year of implementation.

What are you doing to be more innovative in your planning and problem resolution? Have you discovered new tools to help you think more creatively and uncover the deeper gold beneath the surface?

How Does Systems Thinking Improve Organizational Agility?

Systems Thinking offers simplicity, and therefore the possibility for agility both in the development and the implementation of strategies. Looking at an organization as a group of systems within a series of external systems is clearly a good start for creating agile strategies.

Further, applying a practiced evaluation of the organization by identifying INPUTS-THROUGHPUTS-OUTPUTS with a FEEDBACK LOOP, we can speed up the process of strategy development, and the creation of specific actions to implement the strategies.

Developing strategies and implementing them has been a focus of businesses for many decades and improving the processes is an ongoing conversation. In recent years, applying Agile concepts and techniques is getting more and more attention. It has even been questioned as to whether applying Agile techniques is even worthwhile. This has even been discussed on forums on startups with divergent conclusions on how effective this might be.

Using Agile techniques means that those strategies are more likely to be able to be adjusted quickly and effectively through their implementation. Systems Thinking brings a simple, reliable and repeatable rigor to strategy creation and implementation thereby offering a higher level of agility, admittedly a desirable attribute for reaching an organization’s desired outcomes more quickly and completely.

If Agility means getting things done faster, being more flexible in adjusting to changes, then Systems Thinking can help make these things occur. “Begin with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey said, is one key element both in Systems Thinking and in ensuring we are more easily able to keep focused on the long term while we adjust to the short term. This simple concept makes a huge difference to ensure we actually reach our objectives.

Fleshing out how Systems Thinking increases an organization’s strategic agility, we can consider the external environment, a natural factor in any system. The value of conducting a rigorous scan of the FUTURE environment of the organization lies largely in the relatively quick and easy identification of Opportunities and Threats. This effort results in intelligence that greatly enhances an organizations anticipation of what to capitalize on and what to prepare to overcome. Being more prepared certainly improves the organization’s Agility.

Agile Strategic Thinking Template

Using Systems Thinking, this template improves agile strategy creation and implementation

A tool we use for creating strategies is the framework “Agile Strategic Thinking Template” adapted from the Haines Centre for Strategic Management’s Systems Thinking Template

Managing the structures and processes created by the strategic initiatives is a challenge that grows in correlation to the size of the organization. Larger firms will naturally seek software to help with this and there are some out there.

Another tool we use for implementing and managing strategic initiatives is the Agile Strategy Manager SaaS at .

Please share your thoughts and reasoning about why and how Systems Thinking improves the Agility of organizations in developing and executing strategic initiatives. Also, will you share with us any Systems Thinking tools you use that make organizations more Agile?

Strategies and tactics in Tour de France

“I’m a sprinter. It’s my job,” said Mark Cavendish

Strategies and tactics. Roles and responsibilities. Mark Cavendish’s response clearly shows he knows his role, when the interviewer asked him how he did.

The strategies and tactics of each team change continuously during this 21-day race. The Tour de France, which started on July 2nd, is the world’s most grueling bike race. It crosses France, dips into the Pyrenees and then the Alps, before finishing on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Strategies and Tactics are Fluid

Each team of 9 riders and multiple support staff, is a highly organized and coordinated machine. Everyone on the team has a role and each person understands their role and the impact he has on the rest of the team. As Cavendish said, his job is to gain points in the sprint finishes, and try to win as many stages as possible. This helps the team move up in the overall General Classification, and it gains him individual points, as well as potential podium positions at the end of each stage. So far, Cavendish has 29 stage wins to his Tour de France career – more than any other rider in the 113 years of this race.

Teams wouldn’t succeed unless everyone knew their role. One leader is chosen as having the best potential to win the yellow jersey and thus the Tour de France. The rest act as support crew to keep him safe from crashes and make sure he’s positioned well to win points and lead the race. Some are mountain climbers who excel in the Pyrenees and Alps climbs. Others are domestiques who ferry water bottles from the team cars to their fellow team mates and create lead-out trains for the favored sprinter(s) on the team. Their job is to keep the leader and the sprinters safe and well positioned to win during the 21 days of the race.

The strategies and tactics of some teams are to concentrate only on improving their standings in the General Classification with the goal of getting both a team win and the overall yellow jersey. For them, the early stage wins are less important than making sure their key guy and their sprinters are safely positioned and don’t lose time to any other teams.

Other teams focus on earning King of the Mountain or Sprinter jerseys, and building the strength, endurance and collaboration of their team members. These teams may be newer to the Tour de France, and haven’t developed their members into the well-oiled machines of BMC, Team Sky, Movistar, or Astana.

The Tour de France is an excellent example of strategies and tactics at work, as well as teamwork and leadership. Over the course of the 21 days, each team’s strategies and tactics may change depending on external factors, such as weather, illness, crashes, and competitive challenges from other teams. The overall leader could crash out of the race or get so ill he has to abandon. If that happens, the team needs to pick another leader to rally the rest of the team around.

Listen to the interviews and you’ll gain insights into some of the strategies the teams are using to be successful.

How might you apply some of these same concepts to your business? What can be learned from the Tour de France?

Leading by walking around

Leading by walking around is a great management techiniqueThis article about leading by walking around ( stimulated recollections about my own experience while working at National Decision Systems. The first three years were the best experience of my career. Why? Because the CEO did exactly as this article suggests. He led by walking around.

He wouldn’t just call people on the phone or send emails. He dropped by their office unannounced and asked thought-provoking questions. Visiting people where they work is an excellent leadership technique to follow and one I made sure to model.

I remember one such visit to my office after turning in my report on the most recent user conference I had run. My first thought was, “Oh, oh. What did I not do right?”

He wanted to know why I thought the conference was successful. How did I measure success? Wow! No one had asked me that before. I had to really think about it. The purpose was to generate new sales, which we did. It was also to get customers more engaged with the products….which we did. So that met two of my measures of success. The 3-day event went smoothly for attendees – that was another measure of my own. Yes, there were hiccups, but only I was aware of them, and I resolved them right away. The customer feedback was also excellent, so that also told me we hit a home run.

Leading by walking around makes an impact

The CEO’s appearance in my office to sit down across from me and ask my input made a real impact on me. I modeled my own leadership that way with my direct reports. Instead of sitting in my office and calling them in, I got up and went to their desks to ask questions and get their input. I did this with people in other departments as well. If I had a question that needed answering, I walked over to their office and asked the question. That action helped me build great working relationships throughout the company and a willingness to help even when it was outside their immediate scope of work. If they knew the answer or how to get it done, they would pitch in.

Leading by walking around helps you build those relationships. You also learn so much because you give others the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise. This type of technique should not be to deliver bad news or only to give praise. If the only time you visit someone’s office is to do either of these, then eventually the staff gets jaded.

Visit your people in their offices to ask thoughtful questions and find out what they know. You might be very surprised and learn a few things yourself!

3 Tips: Making Strategic Planning Agile

Creating and managing change is in the pressure cooker! The 2001 introduction of the “Agile Manifesto” by a consortium of thought leaders of the software development industry has now spilled over into nearly, if not all, aspects of managing organizations of all types. This includes strategic planning.

First and foremost, let us accept that Strategic Planning is necessary and requires time, diligence and innovation. Nevertheless, there are tools you can use to make strategic planning agile, speeding up the planning process and achieving the same, and often better, results. Agile is one of those.

Here are three ways you can make Strategic Planning agile

  1. Run your planning retreat in a manner that includes breaking into teams that operate in SCRUMS. The teams, each led by a facilitator, follow the iterative process in a very compressed time frame of 15 to 45 minutes (see SCRUMS) to achieve relatively small, discreet goals. These group collaborations, when facilitated using some key Lean Six Sigma tools, will more rapidly create the results you need in assembling your Strategic Plan.
  2. Apply Systems, or Strategic, Thinking rigorously to maintain an “outcome-based”, or “future-oriented” focus on the planning and implementation of the strategic initiatives. This ensures you concentrate your thought processes and behaviors on evaluating the entire organization as a “living system,” and includes considering the overall environment the business operates in. This helps to make strategic planning agile.
  3. Create the structures, processes and culture that ensure everyone in the organization understands their role in making the business a success. This may include deploying a proven tool, like the Agile Strategy Manager, that aids you in tracking, managing and adjusting your desired goals as everyone does their job to reach them.

Agile Decision Making Framework makes Strategic Planning AgileUse a proven framework for planning. It helps drive the use of a common language for communicating, following, measuring and managing plans throughout the organization. Applying Systems Thinking also ensures the outcomes you identify are creating value for your customer. And don’t forget the importance of providing your people with the best tools available to track and report progress. This also helps to make your strategic planning agile.

Practicing “Agile” techniques, beginning with the Strategic Planning process, will permeate the Strategic Management process. Your organization’s various teams will implement the broader strategic initiatives and their respective tactical tasks. Keeping those tasks aligned with the organization’s strategic initiatives will help the teams adjust and innovate in a much more “Agile” manner.

Celebrating your and your people’s successes will be so much more impactful when everyone realizes that being AGILE and COMPREHENSIVE are not mutually exclusive endeavors.